08:55am Sunday 24 September 2017

One in thirty drivers tested positive in saliva samples

Trafikk motorvei Ill: ColourboxThis is shown in results published by the DRUID project at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The project has analysed saliva samples from 9236 drivers. 

Using saliva samples, drivers can be tested for about 25 medicines and intoxicants. Saliva samples can be used to detect whether a person has recently used a drug, but cannot directly say whether a person is impaired by it. 

Over 9000 samples

Norway and 12 other countries have participated in an international roadside study to determine how many drivers drive with traffic hazardous substances in the blood. The study is called DRUID – Driving under the Influence of Alcohol, Drugs and Medicines. The final results of all sub-projects were presented at a conference in Germany on the 27-28th September 2011. 

In Norway, saliva samples were taken from 9,236 randomly selected drivers. Of these, 3.0 per cent tested positive for alcohol, psychoactive medicines or illegal drugs. 

  • Psychoactive medicines:
    1.7 per cent tested positive for these substances alone (1.9 per cent total when those who had several drugs in the same sample are included). This is slightly higher than the average for all participating countries. 
    Diazepam, a sedative and anxiolytic medicine, (Valium and similar drugs) was detected most often. The painkiller codeine and sleeping agent zopiclone (Imovane and similar drugs) were also detected frequently. 
  • Illegal drugs:
    0.6 per cent tested positive for these substances alone (0.8 per cent total). This is lower than the average for the participating countries. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was detected most often. 
  • Alcohol:
    0.3 per cent had an alcohol concentration of more than 0.2 g/l in saliva samples (including those apprehended by the police). This is a very low percentage compared to most European countries. 

Table 1. Analytical findings (per cent positive samples) for drivers in different Norwegian regions

 

Alcohol
> 0.1 g/l

Medicines

Illegal drugs

Total

All of Norway

0.4

1.9

0.8

3.0

South-eastern Norway

0.5

2.4

1.1

3.7

South-western Norway

0.3

1.3

0.5

2.0

Middle and northern Norway

0.2

1.3

0.5

2.0

Greater-Oslo

0.6

2.2

1.1

3.7

Other urban areas

0.2

2.2

0.9

3.0

Rural areas

0.4

1.6

0.6

2.5

All participating countries used the same reporting thresholds for the different substances. If the concentration was above the reporting threshold, it was considered to be a positive test.

Most frequent in south-eastern Norway

In Norway, saliva samples were taken from drivers in selected regions of south-eastern, south-western, middle and northern Norway. Alcohol and drugs were more often found in samples from drivers in south-eastern Norway than in samples from other parts of the country, and more often in samples from the Oslo area than in other towns and from rural areas. 

Drivers were stopped by traffic police who first made their own checks. Then the drivers were invited by staff from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health to participate in a voluntary and anonymous research project. 94 per cent of the invited drivers agreed to participate. 

Saliva samples were analysed at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and tested for alcohol, THC (hashish, marijuana), amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and similar drugs, cocaine, a metabolite of heroin, hypnotic, sedative and anxiolytic medicines, strong painkillers, some epilepsy medicines, and some metabolites from these substances. 

Differences between countries

Similar studies were performed in the other countries in the project. 

“The results show that there were large differences between the different countries. The prevalence of alcohol and illegal drugs in samples from Norwegian drivers was lower than the European average, whereas the prevalence of medicinal drugs in total was higher. Norwegian drivers were among the best at avoiding alcohol consumption before driving,” said Hallvard Gjerde PhD, from the Department of Alcohol and Drug Research at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Gjerde is the primary author of the report. 

Alcohol was most often detected in samples from Italian drivers (about 5 per cent or one in twenty had alcohol concentrations of more than 0.5 g/l). THC (cannabis) was most often detected in samples from drivers in Spain, as well as cocaine. Benzodiazepines were often detected in samples from Portugese drivers, and Z-hypnotics (zolpidem and zopiclone) were most often detected in samples from Norwegian drivers. 

Table 2. Analytical findings (per cent positive samples) for drivers in different countries

 

‰Alcohol> 0.1g/l

Amphetamines

Cocaine / Benzecg.

THC

Illegal opiates

Benzo-diazepines

Z-hypnotiocs

Medical opioids

Total

Belgium

6.7

0.0

0.4

0.5

0.2

2.3

0.3

1.0

10.7

Czech Republic

1.0

0.4

0.05

0.6

0.0

0.7

0.0

0.2

2.8

Denmark

2.6

0.04

0.06

0.3

0.0

0.5

0.3

0.8

4.5

Finland

0.7

0.1

0.03

0.04

0.0

1.1

0.6

0.7

2.9

Hungary

0.2

0.0

0.04

0.2

0.0

1.8

0.2

0.3

2.3

Italy

9.6

0.3

1.6

2.1

1.0

1.7

0.0

1.2

15.0

Lithuania

3.9

0.2

0.0

0.0

0.0

1.4

0.0

0.0

5.5

Netherlands

2.4

0.4

0.7

2.1

0.01

0.4

0.05

0.2

5.5

Norway

0.4

0.2

0.1

0.6

0.0

1.0

0.8

0.2

3.0

Poland

1.5

0.07

0.0

0.6

0.09

0.1

0.0

0.03

2.4

Portugal

6.7

0.02

0.3

1.8

0.2

3.0

0.0

0.2

10.0

Spain

5.1

0.2

2.6

6.9

0.3

1.7

0.0

0.2

14.9

Sweden

– –

0.07

0.01

0.03

0.0

0.2

0.4

0.7

1.3

 

The DRUID project received support through the EU’s 6th Framework Programme for Research and began in October 2006. The aim of the project has been to collect data and knowledge that will be used as a basis for improving traffic safety in Europe, particularly with regard to driving while intoxicated. 

More than 30 research institutes from 18 European countries have participated in the project. 

DRUID Project website (www.druid-project.eu): See “Deliverables List, Work Package 2: Prevalence of Alcohol and other psychoactive Substances in drivers in traffic in general in 13 member states”. 

Other studies at the Institute of Public Health

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has also worked with two other sub-studies:

  • Review of published data on the effect of some intoxicants and hypnotics and anxiolytic medicines on traffic safety.
  • Study of drivers who are killed in traffic accidents and their use of alcohol, illegal drugs and anxiolytic/hypnotic medicines

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